Happy holidays? Shopping forecast upbeat

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Diane Schwenke
Diane Schwenke

Diane Schwenke has high hopes for what really could be the most wonderful time of the year for Grand Valley businesses.

Local sales tax collections, a key indicator of retail activity, continue to increase. Moreover, consumers have regained a level of confidence that helps to drive sales. Those indicators and others signal what could be the busiest holiday shopping season since before the recession, says Schwenke, president and chief executive officer of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce.

“I think we’re going to see a little more robust season than we have seen in the past.”

A range of efforts are once again planned to encourage sales during a period that for many businesses accounts for a significant portion of their overall sales for the year. Stores in the Mesa Mall will open for Thanksgiving and offer extended hours the day after on Black Friday. Increased work also has gone into promoting what’s billed as Small Business Saturday. That’s not to mention a series of events that have been scheduled to put shoppers in a festive mood.

Local expectations mirror more upbeat national projections, including a forecast from the National Retail Federation calling for a 4.1 percent increases in sales in November and December over those same months last year. “Retailers could see a welcome boost in holiday shopping, giving some companies the shot in the arm they need,” says Matthew Shay, president and CEO of the NRF.

Mesa Mall will offer a head start on holiday shopping in opening at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving and remaining open until 1 the next morning. After a five-hour break, the mall will reopen at 6 a.m. on Black Friday and stay open until

10 p.m. Extended hours also are planned for the remainder of the holiday season.

While Black Friday constitutes one of the busiest shopping days of the year at the mall, the Saturday before Christmas — Dec. 20 this year — is typically the busiest of all.

A number of special holiday events also are planned at the Mesa Mall, including cookies and milk with Santa from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Dec. 5 and a pet morning with Santa from 7 to 8:30 a.m. Dec. 7 and 14.

The day after Black Friday has been dubbed Small Business Saturday as part of a national initiative launched five years ago by American Express to help small, locally owned firms compete with national retailers for holiday dollars.

The Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce is involved this year in distributing promotional materials to participating businesses. In addition, the chamber offices at 360 Grand Ave. will be open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Small Business Saturday — Nov. 29 — to give out shopping bags and other goodies as well as provide information about the discounts and specials participating businesses offer. Businesses that want to join in the effort can call the chamber at 242-3214 for materials or information.

Small Business Saturday fits in with year-round chamber efforts to promote shopping at local businesses through its buy local campaign, Schwenke says. “It just makes sense for us to step up our involvement.”

In downtown Grand Junction, holiday lighting, window displays and a series of events attract shoppers to the business district and put them in a festive spirit.

“We do this to entice people downtown,” said Aaron Hoffman, marketing and communications director for Downtown Grand Junction.

Free visits with Santa and horse-drawn carriage rides will be offered from noon to 2 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday between Nov. 29 and Dec. 21.

The Spirit of Christmas celebration is set for 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Dec. 5 and will feature caroling, entertainment and extended hours at downtown stores.

The annual Parade of Lights along Main Street downtown is scheduled for 5 p.m. Dec. 6.

Hoffman wouldn’t offer a forecast on the holiday shopping season downtown, but says expectations are mostly upbeat after a busy summer and fall.

Schwenke points to increased sales tax collections as an indicator of increased sales she expects to continue into the holidays.

Sales tax collections in Grand Junction and Mesa County have increased on a year-over-year basis for 12 out of the last 13 months. The city reported a 4.8 percent gain in sales tax collections in its October report, while the county reported a 6.4 percent jump.

Consumers are more confident and, therefore, likely more willing to increase spending, Schwenke adds. “My overall sense is that people are more optimistic this fall than they have been in a while.”

If forecasts hold true, the holiday season really could be the most wonderful time of the year for Grand Valley businesses.